ADHD and developing habits
December 29, 2019 7:51 PM   Subscribe

You have ADD/ADHD, but you successfully changed/developed long-term habits. You became someone who exercises regularly, maintains a relatively tidy home, meditates, etc to the point that these things no longer require a significant mental effort. Please tell me how.

At the moment, I'm kind of overwhelmed and tired of living with myself. With 2020 coming I initially was looking forward to making resolutions - as I always do - and then I thought about all of my attempts to make significant long-term changes in my life, and the fact that almost all of them have failed.

* difficulty changing gears
* difficulty creating much-needed structure at home (at work, with an externally exposed structure, I do much better)
* difficulty maintaining a sense of priority (.e.g, I might decide that I really need to work on exercising regularly and stick with it for a week or so. But within a few weeks either I'm depressed and nothing seems to matter at all, or my sense of what matters has changed. I know the facts about the importance of exercise, but something else *feels* much more important for now).
* the prior is also an issue for therapy. whatever I want to work on one week, the next visit I've moved on to something else entirely.

What's helped in the past:
* Structural changes - For instance, setting up a savings account (or CD) that's easy to deposit to and hard to withdraw from. Automatic bill pay. Timed internet blockers.
* Therapy, to some degree
* Meds. They aren't currently helping, but they've helped in the past. I plan to see someone about that soon.
* Classes - ongoing classes are harder - like walking into a yoga class where other students already know each other and have been doing it for a while - than time-limited classes, where I start with other beginners, we form bonds, and learn to do the thing together. Of course this only works for the length of the class.
* Buddy system - having someone who's counting on me to show up for a walk, for example.
* Hiring a cleaner - this means I feel compelled to tidy up before she comes, even if it's a wreck the rest of the time.
* Timers/reminders - they help for a while, then they don't.
* Not being depressed is really helpful.

Structural changes/barriers are probably the most reliable. But for now the only way I can think of using them is with internet blockers. I don't know how I can use this notion for something like walking 10,000 steps per day, meditating regularly, reading more or doing the dishes on a daily basis.

I've tried a lot of strategies. I'm really tired and frustrated. If you've been here and gotten better, I'd love to know how.
posted by bunderful to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing I've found is to take an index card or small slip of paper every day, and to write up a list of tasks broken up into chunks of time, and then I add a hash mark for each chunk of time completed and tally up my total for the day. My weekly average determines whether I deserve a reward (per the list of rewards I keep in my head + write in my calendar. stuff like "a can of sparkling wine" or "bath bomb" or "download new book")

What this looks like in practice, for a typical busy workday, is this:

:03 laundry lllll lll
:01 exercise lllll lllll lllll ll
:01 meditate lllll
:05 housekeeping lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll
:10 studio time lllll lllll ll
:10 work project A lll
:10 work project B lllll lllll lllll
:10 misc. work (meetings, hallway chats, etc.) lllll lllll lllll lllll ll

Daily total: 112/100 = 112%! Reward time!

The tasks can be whatever you need them to be. The time chunks are broken up kinda-arbitrarily, based on how difficult it is for me to do those tasks. The three-minute laundry interval is because I hate doing laundry but find it tolerable in three-minute chunks. The one-minute exercise interval is because it's easy to set a timer for one minute and do some squats or run in place, and it feels like a big deal if I actually squeeze in an hour-long workout, so my daily total would reflect that. Meanwhile, I really love Work Project B, so I don't need as much of a nudge to spend time on that.

It's not a perfect system, but I've found for the past couple of years that it's remarkably consistent in getting me to get just *a little bit* done, and for gamifying it so that I feel motivated and productive, even on these weird days between Christmas and New Year's.
posted by witchen at 8:12 PM on December 29, 2019 [15 favorites]

I don’t know if this is feasible for you, but a dog will force you to exercise every morning and night without fail. A dog also forces you to keep to a regular schedule. And a dog is likely to destroy anything left out, so you’ve got to get organized. Adopting a dog is a lot of work and very expensive, but in my experience, it will get you exercising and get your home life structured — for good — like nothing else.
posted by rue72 at 8:29 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Work's 'exposed' structure helps; is literally opening your window coverings regularly enough to spur you to re-notice the disarray in your home, and/or care what someone glancing in would see?

- Automate what you can in your home life to create a structure and habits, beyond bill pay
- So, yes to the cleaning service at a set time
- Or a regular delivery which will have to be put away (& you'll need to tidy then, to have room for groceries or supplies)
- Or a meet-up at your place (again, you'll be irritated with yourself, but you'll tidy up)

It gets easier to build in 10-minute blocks of cleaning, or exercising, when you have a recurring, longer session established. Having a comfortable home and feeling in good health (from the ongoing exercise practice/good sleep hygiene working well/paying attention to meal-planning/etc.) keeps depression at bay for me, and when I've gotten off-track I do have to start over with small habits orbiting these larger, looming 'appointments' I make. Knowing I have plans for y outing means I'll want to get x laundry done (or even w car service, if the plans are a road trip) before that date. Daily/weekly/monthly task lists help me organize, too.

I understand your frustration, and wish you well. Can you schedule that appointment with someone, to discuss a medication change, online? Yes, everything's slower because it's the end of the year, but your question is a helpful reminder to me that I need to place a request in my own HCP's queue.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:05 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

For exercise: instead of classes, maybe you could join a team? Team sports mean regular exercise like classes but they're ongoing (at least for the length of the season). If you find a good team and just keep going back you might end up playing with the same people for years and making friends along the way (I have). Teams also have the great motivating factor of 'I am letting OTHER people down if I don't show up, not myself', which is the kicker for me and is a bit like the buddy system that's worked for you in the past.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 2:19 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

For cleaning, I've found that doing things at specific times really helps, because otherwise I forget or get distracted halfway through or whatever. So kitchen surfaces are wiped down and cleared every evening before I brush my teeth. Saturday morning I hoover. Sunday morning I clean the bathroom. Laundry is All The Time unfortunately, because I have to hang dry with no dryer, so breakfast and dinner are my prompts to go "is the current laundry dry? If it is, fold and put on more laundry".

This keeps things ticking over, and as an incentive I only allow myself to watch crappy home makeover shows on my laptop whilst I'm cleaning. If I really want to binge watch crappy TV, guess I better find more things to clean, that's when floors get mopped and cupboards get organised.

For exercise : I quit a lot. I've decided that doesn't matter as long as I do something else. I've stopped going to the gym? Ah well, maybe I'll try some yoga at home from YouTube videos. I only did that for a couple weeks? Well I'll walk into town today, treat myself to a coffee and go window shopping and get loads of steps. Maybe next time I'll join a dance class. I figure doing a variety of random, spotty exercise is better than doing none at all, and if I forgive myself for quitting I'm more likely to go do something else instead.

Sounds like depression is your big stumbling block in many things though, more than ADHD. Be gentle with yourself, everything is harder when you're depressed.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:22 AM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Start small - trying to tackle everything at once is setting yourself up to fail.

Genuinely acknowledge success - even getting something small done every day is worth recognizing. This builds a habit of self-worth and accomplishment that makes it easier to continue and to add another routine. I will literally tell myself out loud, 'well done - you did a thing - keep going, you're doing great.'

Find things you enjoy and recognize the things that must be done that you don't enjoy. I like washing dishes and don't like cleaning bathrooms so I account for that when planning (as in i need to give myself an extra boost about the bathroom so that it stays clean). Similarly, pick an exercise you actually enjoy (which doesn't mean you have to like it all the time), just something you're going to want to do (no sense making it harder by doing something you 'should' do).

Find a good therapist and supportive friends - that's been invaluable to keeping me from getting lost in depression or feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness as I struggle to do the simple little things necessary to live well.
posted by kokaku at 3:38 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sounds like depression is your big stumbling block in many things though, more than ADHD. Be gentle with yourself, everything is harder when you're depressed.

Maybe so. What you're describing in your example of quitting the gym sounds very difficult. The mental work of keeping exercise as a priority in top of mind, enough that you can quit one thing and then both remember and care enough to start another thing - naturally, with no external reminders, and thinking of new ways to do it, seems really overwhelming. (As does committing to just doing the same thing regularly on an ongoing basis).

In general, it sounds like everyone - I assume all of those commenting have ADD? - is doing fairly well at managing. This all sounds like the stuff I'm reading on ADD websites about how to manage life w ADD, where I feel like instructions are missing. So perhaps there's something else to it.
posted by bunderful at 4:53 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bullet journaling has saved my adult-with-ADD life. There are a lot of resources for ADHD users - Google for more.
posted by Miko at 5:11 AM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

I can't keep any system of organization together either. To do lists invariably get lost and/or overwhelming. Anything involving calendars and stickers and whatnot also seems exhausting. For me the only thing that works is when I absolutely have to do something. So exercise is easy because without it I am antsy and miserable and can't sleep at night. Keeping a tidy house is much more difficult. I don't really clean on a regular basis other than doing dishes--just every so often have a fit of "I can't take it anymore" and will swirl through the house cleaning everything then. I guess that's not really helpful advice except to reiterate that as long as I feel that I absolutely must do things I will do them, but only when it reaches that point. So perhaps let go of some of the ideals that you have. And try to look at the important things in terms of being non negotiable. For instance maybe arrange to meet with an exercise buddy so then you would feel bad about leaving them in the lurch similar to how you must clean before the cleaner shows up.
posted by whistle pig at 6:17 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

One last thought:

I have also found that on days when I'm working, at work I spend the whole time concentrating so hard on not making stupid mistakes and fucking up that I am burnt out mush when I get home. I am essentially hyper-focused for a full day, which is exhausting, and after that no I don't care or think about exercise or cleaning the house or cooking. I'm currently working part time, which I think is the reason I actually seem like I am managing, although I realise that is not an option for most people.

If that strikes a chord with you, I don't have any good advice other than to accept that weekends are the only time stuff is gonna get done and scale down ambitions to fit that. And if you can in any way get a dishwasher, get a dishwasher and only use utensils that can go in the dishwasher, because washing dishes is endless and unforgiving and dishwashers are my saviour.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have ADHD that I feel is not very well managed (also trying to find the right medication). Here are things I do that sometimes work.

* I have a short list of chores that are essential to get done or at least check on a daily basis. For me it's seeing if the compost or trash needs to be taken out, emptying the dishwasher, and doing laundry if one of the baskets is full. Doing these things helps keep all else in order because once they are done I can throw away trash or put dishes in the dishwasher.
* I use only online workouts, and while I have invested money in nice weights and a yoga mat, I don't pay anything ongoing for my exercise routine. That means I don't have to feel guilt when I don't exercise, but I also know I can always jump back in when I am ready.
* I try to pair a chore with something fun, like listening to an audiobook when I can.
* I also have chores that I "chain." When I give my daughter a bath, I also mop the bathroom floor because I have to be in the bathroom to watch her anyway.
* I attempt to notice (or ask my husband) which of my bad habits are the worst contributors to clutter and mess, and work on fixing just those. I started hanging up my bag in the same place every day, for example.
* I try to do 20 minutes of tidying up a day.

Those are the very baby step things I try to do. I also recommend Unfuck Your Habitat if you have not tried it. It is very gentle and she has cleaning lists. Other people's cleaning lists are awesome because you do not have to figure out what to clean first.
posted by chaiminda at 7:44 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am in a similar boat.

OMG do not get a dog. I have tried to get a dog to help with my unmanaged, wicked ADHD, and it backfired pretty badly. I had to rehome an anxious, sad dog, which increased my own sense of failure and misery. I still miss that damn dog and I wish I could have kept her, but I just cannot manage enough consistency.

Things that have helped:
- Committing myself to extremely easy, baby-step kind of habits. I have the tendency to set giant goals, but smaller ones are much more achievable to me. Right now, my goal is to develop a consistent sleep routine: lights out by midnight, awake by 8am. When I feel like this habit is well-established (if I ever feel like this habit is well-established), I'll move the times by a small amount, like five minutes.
- Bullet Journaling. It's hard to get consistent about it, and I'm not always, but it works well when I write absolutely everything down. It's also nice because it has the novelty factor with every fresh page.
- Spousal/friend/social help. I need an accountability buddy. I often employ my (neurotypical) spouse in this role, but it took a fair bit of figuring out (on both our ends!), because neither of us wants to feel like he's parenting me. But a mutual agreement that he will help me stay on track and I will not get annoyed with him about it goes a long, long way.
posted by linettasky at 8:40 AM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Use your phone! I offload as much as possible of my executive functions to this device I'm forced to use anyway. Calendar reminders for trash, appointments, work deliverables, calling mom, apps for paying bills and counting food and prompting exercise and that Duolingo owl, all in one place on this Thing I obey like a dog.
Playing videogames helped train my brain to prioritize quests, which is real useful in real life. I assign myself main/side quests for the day to provide structure, and free time to do whatever my brain wants is the reward when I'm done. My partner is also great at helping me prioritize and keeping me on track, but really the phone is it.
posted by Freyja at 9:06 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had to be really gentle with myself. ADHD is comorbid with anxiety and depression for a reason, we internalize all of the disappointments internal and external and they build a framework for our identity. I remember the distinct moment when I decided I didn't want depression to be my identity. That's around when I went and got an ADHD diagnosis.

I do a lot of "puttering" as my girlfriend calls it. Like entire nights of it. I'm jealous that they can just watch a show or play a game all night. What I try to do is putter intentionally. A large part of "our" problem comes in two parts that both link to executive function (all people are of course different, but most of us struggle with this):
1. Lack of motivation
2. Problem with task prioritizing

I'll start with 2. I remember one of my most productive cleaning sessions a few months ago. I literally just wanted to steam clean my hardwood floor. That's it. I kept finding new incredibly important tasks spiraling outward to do halfway through the previous task. I let this happen and just kept going until finally I hit the end of the tasks and spiraled back in. It actually worked. It felt great.

So my advice on task prioritizing is let it happen when you can. If you end up spending the entire night cleaning up your apartment, that's fine. Guilt and shame are the mind-killer for me.

So motivation, I know it sounds stupid but... I just have to start. If you forget to start, set an alarm. Once I let go of all the shame and anger at myself I had, picking up a single piece of paper would usually let me keep finding new tasks endlessly until I was done. I liken ADHD to climbing a mountain only we're wearing very heavy weights. Some of those weights are how poorly our executive function brain works, but a lot of them are the internal shame and guilt.

I focused almost exclusively on how you FEEL because I think when we have had ADHD untreated for a long time, we think we're lazy pieces of shit. We're not.

So here are my tips:
1. Tell yourself, it's okay to do a little or a lot.
2. If you need a reminder to start, set an alarm. Set many. But if you ignore these alarms, they will just make you feel worse. We try to go overboard then ignore them and that impedes the free flow of doing things.
3. Try to notice one thing only that you don't like right then. A piece of paper on your counter? Pick up the piece of paper and put it in the trash. Done. ONE TASK.
4. It's fine if you think of another task mid #1 or after #1. It's fine if you don't.

Find that free-flow and you will break out of not doing ANYTHING. Do. One. Thing. That's my mantra. I guess the point is that I don't have habits beyond a few. But I have many things that I do regularly but haphazardly. I got in really good shape going to the gym a lot but seldom with real plans before I was there. I keep a tidy house by just... sporadically cleaning.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

Just one idea on dishes--I have put away in boxes ALL of my dishes except for one spoon, bowl, fork, knife, etc.. I even drink water and coffee out of the same mug! This makes dish washing much easier to tackle, because there's only so much stuff to get dirty.
posted by 8603 at 9:29 AM on December 30, 2019

I'm not doing so well at managing everything else right now, but the one thing I have sorted out is exercise, because I have to rent a car or call a cab to go anywhere other than by foot, bike, or transit. I could stand to get back into more specific kinds of exercise (I know weightlifting is good for me), but I'm outside moving for about an hour total every weekday, just to get to and from work. It helps.

Your workplace might (or might not!) be too difficult to get to without a car from your home, but if there are any other trips you take that could be done without one, give it a try. If it turns out to be feasible, tell yourself that whenever you go to that destination, you're walking or biking. It's easier to make the structural change stick if you've eliminated other options, but it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing lifestyle change.

Try to build the things you would like to be doing into the things you're already successfully doing anyway. (And you are doing plenty of things successfully already, or your question would have been a totally different question!)
posted by asperity at 9:55 AM on December 30, 2019

I identify so much with your cycle of resolution-lapse-guilt. Like you, some things in my life have been helped greatly by structural changes or buddy systems, but certain personal habits don't lend themselves to that.

I have this vision of the Ideal Person who maintains consistent lifelong habits. At some point, I realized that I may never become that person. I might be someone who always gets extra energy from making resolutions and being excited about the Next Great System that's going to change my life. I think that kind of works for me, though! My productivity comes in waves. For those two weeks, I get some extra things done: I work out, or I learn a new recipe, or I organize my file cabinet. Just because it didn't last forever doesn't mean that what I accomplished was worthless. When I notice that the effects of the resolution have worn off, I try not to get depressed. I just recognize that it's time to refocus and make a new resolution or freshen up my system. It might not be the most perfect way to be, but the guilt and disappointment have never served me.

One of the most helpful things anyone has had me do is make one resolution each month. It helped me reduce the number of things I'm trying to transform at once, and it also gave me a chance for self-reflection and a clean slate every 30 days.

As far as tools go, my favorite is the Passion Planner. I get the Undated one because (you guessed it) I'm not always consistent, and that way I don't get discouraged by all the blank pages I skipped. Making those detailed schedules is a way of making a new resolution every week for how I'm going to spend my time. It gives me hope!
posted by a huckleberry at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Try witchen's thing. I just did two hours and twenty minutes of tasks I've been putting off, some for weeks. Thanks, witchen: I love your thing!

I've been doing intermittent fasting and it is surprisingly great for getting stuff done because breaking for meals always meant getting sucked into a book or whatever Netflix bullshit, whereas drinking some tea does not involve sitting down somewhere and stopping everything for what inevitably turns out to be three hours.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:59 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recently read Good Habits, Bad Habits and found it helped me to both recognize areas where I already had good habits and figure out how to build new ones. Perhaps it might do the same for you? Here is a New Yorker article summarizing the research.
posted by ferret branca at 1:51 PM on December 30, 2019

I empathize so hard with you. I struggle daily and I will be watching this thread closely!

One thing that has helped me tremendously is to stop telling myself "I gotta get organized". Instead, when I see an object I ask myself "where does it live?". Everything -- eventually -- will have a home. This attitude has freed up loads of bandwidth & is actually working.

I bought a crazy amount of small white dishpan/totes like these. I have them everywhere so I can sort stuff or quickly condense a bunch of things if I don't have the energy to sort . I also have at least 2 small trash pails per room, generally in any spot where I am inclined to let trash pile up.

I got rid of most of my kitchen extras. So instead of 8 dinner plates I now have 4 and am working towards just having 2. One colander, one or 2 serving spoons etc.. It's been a gradual & difficult thing but the less stuff I have the less mess I can make.

Ditto for extra clothes. I am embracing the idea of a capsule wardrobe that can all be washed (& dried, ideally) together.

I save special podcasts just for housework.

My last strategy is a bit.. embarrassing? But it works so I'm owning it. :) I design my own silly t-shirts. I am 100% not a "tshirt-with-graphics" kind of gal UNLESS I am exercising. When I am wearing something unique I am 75% more motivated to go to the gym or to get out for a walk.

I've heard ADHD described as an invisible disability so above all I work hard to be nicer to myself.

Thanks so much for posting & good luck!
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 2:16 PM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband has ADD and has suffered from bouts of depression. My dad also has ADD and has suffered from serious depression for most of his life. From my vantage point as an observer who has lived with these two people, the depression is much harder. But also, the two conditions tend to mutually reinforce each other and make it that much harder to cope with either one.

ADD makes it hard for my husband to remember things, complete tasks, and switch gears. Depression made it hard for him to start tasks, do anything, or feel any joy. When he was depressed, he constantly doubted himself, and that doubt took up all of the limited mental bandwidth he had because he was constantly re-thinking his decisions, and for people with ADD, making decisions is a lot of mental work.

So I 100% agree with those who say, tackle the depression first. For my husband, medication was like magic, most people aren't so lucky. And be gentle with yourself, it is really really hard to have both ADD and depression.
posted by mai at 3:18 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've been thinking about this question over the last few days but only now getting around to typing my answer!

I'm not officially ADD/ADHD, but when I started researching it so I could better understand my students with official diagnoses I had some "oh hey that's me" moments, and treating myself like I have ADD helps me.
(Also big resonance with above comments talking about co-morbidity of depression/anxiety with ADD. Makes so much sense!)

Something I've noticed in my spouse and roommate before him, is that there is no 'set time' or 'perfect time' for doing a task. Just suddenly, without any planning or whatever, they'll get up and do something, like mow the lawn or do the dishes. I find I ruminate on what I should do next instead of picking something and doing it. Also I hyperfocus on things like being on the computer and probably have a cell-phone addiction which doesn't help my time management. It's been something that has just clicked recently - I think I have similar to me parents who procrastinate and talk things around for ages, and it's a big paradigm shift to realise I can just start doing something.

It's OK to bounce between tasks if I get distracted!

For my work life, a plain A5 visual art diary that is part bullet journal, part brain dump, is a lifesaver. I go through about 4 a year- this year it was 5, but I had added responsibilities. Also with lots of disparate things to get done and think about, I mind map my to-do lists sometimes which helps me see everything. My sister got me a roll of paper from IKEA for a present, and I slice off a bit of that and make big lists, calendars and mindmaps.

I've learned, since living with someone, that I just don't see mess sometimes. I just don't! Especially when it's winter, I'm feeling down, and am managing work stress and anxiety. I don't have good solutions, but at least recognising it helps.

I think there is no magical fix, there are many fixes that work for some time and then don't. It's OK to mix things up! It's OK to try new ways of doing things.

Also, this might not be a problem for you, but for me drinking more water helps so much in surprising ways.
posted by freethefeet at 7:54 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all your generous, thoughtful comments. There's a lot for me to sort through here (in an excellent way). As counterproductive as it sounds, I'm really grateful to hear that other people struggle in a similar way and I'm not the only one who's not doing life with ADD perfectly.

I had downloaded Habitica and after seeing the advice here I've changed some of my goals from large tasks to tiny tasks. Not "clean the apartment" but "put something away." I feel hopeful about this.

Another thing I did was look back at 2019. I actually accomplished quite a lot, but absolutely none of it was a resolution. So I think in 2020 I'll be just accepting that this is how I work. Maybe I'll have an intention or mantra instead of a concrete resolution.

Oh yeah. Also started a bullet journal. Might be overkill. I'll give myself permission to let go of whatever isn't working.
posted by bunderful at 5:26 AM on December 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just got a roomba and it actually motivates me to clean while it’s running. Or you can just schedule it and let it go.

External stimulus and rewards are important to us. Internal is really lacking as a result of ADHD.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2019

lots of great advice in here.

i would like to address the cleaning person comment in your initial post. you say that feel the need to tidy before they come.

in my experience, i felt like this because i didn’t want to be judged for being shit at keeping my place clean. if this doesn’t apply to you then you can skip the rest of this :-)

sometimes i do pick up a bit if i’ve been especially messy. or i’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher and run it before she comes so i don’t feel utterly inept ;-) i don’t leave shit everywhere like a teenager but i do find it hard to just do whatever it is that people do that keeps places clean and neat even when i do make an effort.

i am fortunate to live in a country where i can afford for her to come twice a week. she kept insisting on doing my laundry and i finally relented but insisted she let me pay her more.

she is a professional. she loves to clean the way i love to dive into a technical issue at work and spend an hour or more completely lost in troubleshooting some weird thing.

it has been one of the best things i’ve ever done because my apartment is now generally tidy, my clothes are put away, and when she has time off, she’s already made things a bit organized so i don’t have to think quite so much and i can make a better attempt to keep up with things and also appreciate so much the absolute blessing she is.

i am bad at cleaning and it made me feel bad about myself. however i’m also bad at doing hair, performing surgery, and plumbing. i hire a professional for those things.

once i looked at cleaning this way, it helped me be less judgmental on myself. and this one thing has freed up mental space to focus on like making sure i brush my teeth at night and that i exercise at least once a week even if it’s just a 20 minute walk.

ADD as mentioned above can get so wrapped up with depression and anxiety as well because of all these judgements we place on ourselves. it can seem like a luxury to have a cleaner and that it’s something we “should” be able to do but i consider it a necessity. i would cut expenses elsewhere if necessary in order to continue paying her.

i hope this helps. a friend once told me “clean house, clean mind” and he’s right. i feel so much better that my place is cleaner on a regular basis now.

ps her dog had a 10 year birthday recently and she got a cake for him. she’s just an amazing person.
posted by affectionateborg at 2:49 PM on January 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I want to add as someone married to someone with severe ADHD, some of this is how your brain works and that is not your fault.

He gets very discouraged because systems only last a couple of weeks. That is the nature of the ADHD, though, especially if your case is more severe or late in life diagnosed without years of scaffolding help from the tribe around you. That isn't your fault. So, try not to moralize what is a physiological situation.

And perhaps being able to accept that systems will require rejiggering from time to time means you will deal with less disappointment, frustration or guilt when your mind starts to gloss over things as they become consistent. Having some mindset work at the ready for these times of setbacks will make it all less heavy for you in the long run.

Practically speaking, we are doing a lot with home automation tech, but I don't know that any of it is becoming a habit. His habits seem to fall into the path of least resistance so set things up according to that maybe? What is the end result that I want and what is the easiest way to get there?

I also agree with NOT getting a dog if you live alone. My husband is great at showing the dog affection and playing with the dog, but medication, shots, feeding, watering, and baths all happen because of me.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:05 PM on January 1, 2020

affectionateborg is right about having a good cleaner. I never thought I would do it, but I kept hearing from other clients of this woman about how amazing she was, so after I bought a house as part of the overall effort to keep it standing where it was and not on fire or under water or full of wild animals and in general doing its job as a shelter, I hired her to clean, and it was nothing short of miraculous, the changes it made in both the house and me. Every time after she had been to clean when I came home it was like when you stay in a hotel--with the perfect bedmaking and everything crisp and bright and just so, except it was somehow my house and my stuff. Over time she made all sorts of innovations and rearrangements that I never would have done myself, organizationally and modeling and getting me to accept little systems that improved efficiency.

Every three or four times she would fly through the refrigerator. She would never presume to throw things away, but she would put all my moldering old food artfully in the front so that I could see what I had. So I'd come home to a blisteringly clean house and a shining refrigerator with, say, a pyramid of rock-hard ancient oranges on the top shelf that I had no idea I even had in there. Everything was like that. If she saw something that could be arranged or done a different way, she'd switch it around so that I could see the new way. It was all subtle and gentle and gradual in a way I really appreciated because my brain, if it changes at all, likes to change very slowly.

When she finally retired, I hired her one last time to show me her tools and explain how she does all the wonderful things. She sold me her cleaning caddie packed with her tools and potions. (She mostly just used vinegar and baking soda for everything, and Barkeeper's Friend, but also: CitraSolv. A few drops of that was what made the bewitching warm but fresh smell I looked forward to when I'd come home on her cleaning day.)

The most important thing I learned from her was that there is an intellectual component to this stuff. It's not mindless. It's not dull drudgery that's "beneath you to do." It's not just holding your nose and grinding your teeth to get through it. The development of systems and the improvements to efficiency and effecting transformations in a space: it's an art, or what people call "a practice." It's worth pursuing. I took notes that day she came to teach me all her secrets, so on paper at least I know how to do what she did. She has cured me of both resentment and guilt and given me an interest that I never had before. I don't think I will hire someone else ever. I don't even think I really need to, now. I think rather I will spend all my life gradually approaching her level.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:27 AM on January 2, 2020 [15 favorites]

Hi, I don't have "official" ADHD but I have a cognitive disability with attention/executive functioning problems and all my the resources my neuropsych gave me were for ADHD, so I'm adjacent. My partner also has ADHD-I. I've been thinking about this post for days and finally got around to responding.

I want to touch on "managing." My advisor at grad school thinks I am The Most Organized Person Ever and asks me for advice and keeps saying she's "taking a page from my book" when I she starts being more organized and on top of things. This is because I always get my schoolwork done on time and I come in to our meetings with a list of things to talk about. That's me at my absolute best. What she doesn't see is the panicking and rushing and all the things I forgot to put on my list, every time I forgot to bring a list at all and she didn't notice, all the paperwork that I got in late that no one mentioned to her. She also has never been to my disaster of an apartment and hasn't seen any of collections letters I haven't dealt with, doctors appointments I haven't made, half-finished projects everywhere, the absolute disaster that is my document organization and e-mail, my frequent failures to stick with habits, etc., etc., etc. I say that to illustrate that people can seem to have their lives together and really actually not. For me, I can basically only have my life "together" in one area at a time, and that's currently school. And it's still a pretty tenuous togetherness. My partner also really doesn't have their life together--I manage a lot of things for them. It's okay. ADHD is fucking hard. Your brain is trying to function in a world built antithetical to its existence. It's okay.

That aside, there's some things that help. First off: Stimulation. Stimulation. Stimulation. It's currently in vogue to decry our constant need for stimulation and praise "being in the moment" and refusing to multitask. Cool. Great for lots of people who aren't me. It might even be good for you! But I've found that the best way to get my brain to do what I want is to keep it stimulated. This takes a lot of different forms. So, a few examples:

1) Always have my hands occupied. If I'm doing something where I have to sit still and listen or watch, I've got knitting or my sketchbook or a simple match-3 game on my phone. I often say people like me can be thinking on multiple tracks at once--I've actually proven it by counting backward from one hundred in my head and noticing an entire stream of conscious thought behind it. If I don't have some low-level activity to engage my brain, then I'm going to get distracted by one of the other tracks. I need something simple and repetitive (but not too repetitive) to do, or I'm going to space out for 15 minutes because my other track suddenly got interested in whether cats have theory of mind or whatever.

2) Conversely, I always have my brain occupied as well. If I'm doing something with my hands that doesn't require a lot of thought, I have to be listening to or watching something. In terms of habits, this applies while folding laundry, cleaning, and exercising. This is important for two reasons: one, it keeps my brain from yelling "AHHH!! I WANT TO QUIT!!! I'M SO BORED!!!" and gives me motivation to start. I have certain podcasts and shows I only listen to or watch when I'm doing x activity. That means I have to do the activity to listen to/watch it, and gives me motivation to do the thing. Because I'm never going to be motivated to exercise (it sucks!) but I am motivated to watch the next episode of Steven Universe Future.

3) This one I've just started using but it's working so far--using it to kickstart action. I have trouble just getting up and doing things if I'm laying or sitting down and just doing stuff on my phone or whatever. Putting on a podcast seems to give my brain a burst of energy and lets me actually get up and start moving. I use really short podcasts--Retropod and Kind World--so that even if I get sucked into the podcast, it's only 5 minutes, and then I can go do what I need to do. I haven't used it this way yet, but I suspect I could do the same thing to switch gears when I'm really involved in a task. Popping on a five minute podcast could be a good brain refresh when I'm like "but 5 more minutes!" for 3 hours.

Another thing that helps is really explicit routines. I have a morning and evening routine laid out in explicit detail in my task manager app. "Get ready" "eat breakfast" and "pack for work" is way too vague. I break it down step by step, starting from lying in bed:

1. Grab headphones and turn on Retropod or Kind World (this is the kickstarting thing I mentioned)
2. Turn off fan and take medication (water and meds are by my bedside table--part of my evening routine ensures this)
3. Get up and put on compression stockings, underwear, bra (have to write this out first or I'll put on clothes and then realize I forgot to change my underwear or put on my compression stockings)
4. Put on clothes and slippers (I often forget slippers and then end up with freezing feet)
5. Grab water bottle
6. Go to kitchen...

Etc. Other really mundane tasks that show up on the list include "change from slippers to outdoor shoes," "turn off any heat from cooking breakfast," "open blinds." It seems silly but it really helps to have it written out step-by-step. I carry my phone around and glance at it every time I get distracted or forget what I'm supposed to be doing so I can get back on track and make sure I don't miss anything. If I don't do this I end up forgetting to brush my teeth, walking out with slippers, leaving the heat way too low, etc. Every little thing goes on my list and I have to check it off before I leave (or before I sit down at the computer).

Another benefit of doing this is you can build in some other habits into the list. I put "clean litterbox" right before "go to bathroom" because it's on the way and I'm vastly more likely to do it as a step on the list in front of me than as a standalone task that can get done whenever. Other habits I work into my morning/evening routine: cleaning counters while breakfast is cooking, meditating while eating, reading a book for 15 minutes after breakfast to let my stomach settle, and picking up dirty clothes after getting into pajamas. I'm slowly trying to build in more cleaning and habits into these routines, particularly the morning, because that's before other projects have captured my attention and once I get going on the routine it's pretty easy to just follow the list step-by-step without thinking about it.

One thing I have to fight against is the urge to go "nah, the routine isn't that important, I don't need to look at my list, I'll just do the things I feel like today." And that is tough. But it's way, way easier to convince myself "just open the app and start from there" than trying to convince myself every single item on the list is important. Rather than fighting to convince myself it's important to brush my teeth every day, clean the counters, meditate, read for 15 minutes, etc., I just have to convince myself that it's important to at least look at the list. It's pretty rare that I'll skip things if I actually open the list and start following it, but if I don't look at it I'll skip plenty of things.

Oh, also, this is weird, but I've found adding emoji to each step helps? I dunno, maybe it's the same reason visual schedules work for a lot of autistic people. Having a little picture that represents the task makes it easier to "stick" in my brain and help me picture what I'm about to do, which makes it easier to do it. So for example...

🍴 Start breakfast cooking
💧 Fill up water
🍎 Take out lunch and put by door
✨ Clean counters
🔥 Turn off all heat
Grab🍴 food and 💧 water

Weird, but it works for me.
posted by brook horse at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

1. Don pepino please share the notes you took from the cleaner
2. Brook horse what is your task manager app?
posted by Cozybee at 6:59 PM on January 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cozybee: Oh shit thank you for reminding me, I meant to mention! I use Amazing Marvin, and while it has not completely turned my life around, it's significantly upped my success rate in a variety of areas that I usually fail in. It's not free (but has a free trial, which they may extend if a month is not long enough for you), but it's definitely worth the money--I say this as someone who never subscribes to apps, not even Spotify. What I find revolutionary is that it keeps a master list of everything you need to do, but the main view is the "day view"--this is what you're going to do today and nothing else. Importantly, this isn't stuff that's due today (though it can be, but ideally you're doing things before the due date), it's the stuff you're planning to do today. You schedule the tasks you want to do that day and it shows you only that. This is super helpful with habits because I can just set them as recurring tasks and they'll show up in my day view every day, uncluttered by anything else until I decide what else I want to do that day. In terms of non-habit stuff, it's also super useful because I can e.g. think of something on Friday evening, realize I can't do it until Tuesday (because business hours + I'm busy all day Monday, or whatever) and schedule it right then to show up on Tuesday, when I'll almost certainly have forgotten about it. It's incredibly helpful to only be looking at one day, rather than the millions of tasks I have, many of which I can't do right now anyway. It also lets me work on things early without setting a "fake" deadline that I inevitably pass and then don't actually know what the real deadline was.

It's also got tons and tons of other features--but most importantly, these can be turned on and off as you will. It can be as simple or complex as you like. The dev team is also super responsive and constantly adding new things that people ask for, or providing different settings for different use cases. I have not heard anything about the dev team having ADHD themselves, but they pretty explicitly cater/market to ADHD users. Definitely recommend it. Feel free to MeMail me with questions--it can be a lot to figure out at first, but it's worth it. As someone who's tried a billion task managers, this is the only one I can say has made a measurable difference.
posted by brook horse at 9:00 AM on January 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

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